Comey and the Boyz

What’s not to love about a FBI director who knows his Broadway tunes, a time-honored tradition since J. Edgar owned the place.  As the New York Times reports, Jim Comey pulled one out for his speech at Georgetown University.

Citing the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. In an address to students at Georgetown University, Mr. Comey said that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

That everyone is a little bit racist, if not a lot racist, is hardly controversial.  Indeed, not realizing this obvious fault would be quite disturbing.  But Jim then goes to dark places where someone who uses Hoover’s old closet shouldn’t go: that racism “becomes almost irresistible.”

The numbers overwhelmingly show that black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.  But if Jim could think like a freak, he might understand that his facile connection of statistics to the “almost irresistible” rationale for racism defies logic.  Correlation does not prove causation. 

This isn’t to say that Comey is wrong to engage in the discussion as so many others across the nation are doing.

Mr. Comey said that his speech, which was well received by law enforcement officials, was motivated by his belief that the country had not “had a healthy dialogue” since the protests began in Ferguson and that he did not “want to see those important issues drift away.”

“All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty,” he said. “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

Past efforts to engage in this discussion, by Attorney General Eric Holder, for instance, didn’t go over nearly as well as Comey’s.  That may be because Comey is the FBI director, and perceived as one of them.  But more likely, it’s because Comey, despite acknowledging that a problem “might exist,” was simultaneously building the justification for it, and excuse for those who cause it.

Mr. Comey said there was significant research showing that all people have unconscious racial biases. Law enforcement officers, he said, need “to design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all.”

We are all “very human,” but we are not all handed service revolvers and told to go out and use them.  If he needs help designing a system, maybe I can offer some advice: stop shooting people for no good reason.  FOB, Jim.

“Although the research may be unsettling, what we do next is what matters most,” Mr. Comey said.

Forget those dead bodies. They’re old news. It’s the future that “matters most,” not the spouses and children of the guys you already killed. And screw George Santayana anyway.  Did he ever write the book for a Broadway musical?

Mr. Comey said the police had received most of the blame in episodes like the Ferguson shooting and the death of an unarmed black man in Staten Island who was placed in a chokehold by an officer, but law enforcement was “not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods.”

In many of those areas, blacks grow up “in environments lacking role models, adequate education and decent employment,” he said.

Well, yeah, but the blame was for doing the actual killing, and no, lack of adequate education didn’t put a chokehold on Eric Garner. That would be PO Daniel Pantaleo who did the choking, not Garner’s “lacking role models.”

When Mr. Brown was shot in Ferguson, Mr. Comey said, F.B.I. officials could not say whether such shootings were common or rare because no statistics were available.

“It’s ridiculous that I can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police last week, last month, last year,” Mr. Comey said.

It is ridiculous, particularly since the FBI, the bureau of justice statistics, the Department of Justice, and another dozen alphabet agencies collect statistics constantly.  So it is ridiculous, totally ridiculous, that no one, but no one, has a clue how many people were shot by police.

But then, why would the government collect such basic statistics, as it only reflects poorly on law enforcement and the image it tries so desperately to promote of its role as good guys and saviors.  It also reflects on the bad aim with a gun, but without stats, who knows whether the person struck was the target or an innocent bystander.

He added, “Without complete and accurate data, we are left with ideological thunderbolts.”

Well, sure, nothing makes apologist demagoguery more difficult than ideological thunderbolts. Who needs the hassle?

To be fair, it’s not clear that Comey’s heart and mind aren’t aimed in the right direction, recognizing that police don’t take well to criticism or blame. Perhaps this is just his way of trying to ease into the place where cops are constrained to recognize their “almost irresistible” racist reactions result in too many dead black men, and whites as well.  Maybe a gentle transition is how Jim sees the path to ending the knee-jerk violence.

Mr. Comey concluded by quoting Dr. King, who said, “We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.”

A nice quote, except for the fact that it reminds us that the brothers all wear blue and fools perish at the hands of the brothers.  If this is meant as the start of a discussion to end police killing blacks because of their “almost irresistible” racism, that’s fine, but the cops have been doing a lot of killing lately and there really isn’t time to have a leisurely chat about it.  At least not for the fools on the wrong end of the brothers’ guns.

Welcome to the conversation, Jim. Now do something about these “almost irresistible” racist cops before another black man dies.

7 thoughts on “Comey and the Boyz

  1. bmaz

    I thought his speech far too much a paean to, and excuse for, cops. If the purpose was to bring the community, especially the minority one, and cops closer, the speech was far too oblivious of the militarized belligerence of cops toward the people they serve. Struck me as a failure at the purported purpose.

    And most of all, it was all rhetoric, and no solutions for the root problems. And, no, as you note, the “environment” in “hardest hit neighborhoods is not it. That is a pitiful excuse for abusive policing Mr. Comey.

    1. David M.

      Look, we know it’s not the cops’ fault. Must be black people who’re responsible, then, for inconveniencing heroes. They need better role models, and you need to stop being a malcontent.

  2. Not Jim Ardis

    It is ridiculous, particularly since the FBI, the bureau of justice statistics, the Department of Justice, and another dozen alphabet agencies collect statistics constantly.

    They collect the data, but they don’t mandate the data be sent. So most don’t.

  3. Rebecca

    While I despise the canard that young black people “lack role models,” I can’t fathom that being used as an excuse for brutality and misconduct of the police who patrol those neighborhoods. Those cops are supposed to be the role models! That is part of their job! The police can’t shift the blame of lack of role models onto the people in the neighborhoods for that.

    1. SHG Post author

      Doesn’t matter either way; cops still don’t get to kill them for no reason, whether they have good role models or not. This argument bears no connection to the basis for police use of force, but is a red herring designed to catch the attention of the unwary.

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